North Side priest feted at AFL-CIO gathering

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When the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO gave its Citizen of the Year Award on Tuesday to its chaplain, the Rev. Jack O'Malley, it cited his half-century of activism on behalf of unions and laborers.

But Frank Snyder, secretary-treasurer of the organization, also paid tribute to the Roman Catholic priest from Pittsburgh by pulling out a more personal memento -- a house key.

Mr. Snyder said Father O'Malley gave him the key to the priest's North Side house last year when Mr. Snyder's son was severely injured in a car accident that also took the lives of his son's fiancee and unborn child. Father O'Malley's home is near Allegheny General Hospital, where Mr. Snyder's son was treated during an extended hospitalization, and told him to use it any time.

Mr. Snyder tried to give the key back on Tuesday at the AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention, now that his son is out of the hospital, but Father O'Malley said to keep it indefinitely. "He said, 'The door is always open,' " Mr. Snyder said. "His house has been open for so many people, not just his friends."

The Citizen of the Year Award was presented on the first day of the state AFL-CIO's three-day constitutional convention, being held at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown by the association, whose member unions represent more than 800,000 workers. Father O'Malley, who was ordained a priest in 1965, said he was humbled by the honor because he has "learned a lot from workers" since he got involved in labor issues in seminary.

His work has ranged from hosting California farm workers, who were seeking nationwide support for better working conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, to efforts over the decades on behalf of steel and other blue-collar workers. More recently, Father O'Malley was arrested for trespassing in February along with other clergy in a protest outside UPMC offices, calling for better pay and conditions for the health care giant's workers.

Father O'Malley's aim is "to put the gospel into action," he said. "People are working two jobs without health benefits, and they can't even see their children" because they often get home after the children have gone to bed."

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416.

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